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Search

The search module provides the infrastructure to build and query search indexes, as well as a file-based implementation that is suitable for small sites.

Querying in DecentCMS is based on a simple JavaScript API that is loosely based on the map/reduce pattern. The basic idea is that you first build an index, and then you can run queries on that index. The architecture ensures that querying can scale to very large content stores. It also enables querying to work in a unified way across heterogeneous storage mechanisms. Effectively, storage and querying are entirely separated.

It is possible to create and query a search index from code, like documentation-toc-part is doing, but there is also a ready-to-use content part that makes simple querying really easy: search-part.

The search API

In order to perform a search, an index has first to be created. An index is defined by three things:

  • An optional id filter

    This is your first and most efficient way to filter out content items. It's a regular expression that will be tested against the id of the content items. If it tests negatively, the content item won't even be fetched from the store.

  • A mapping function

    This is a JavaScript function that maps a content item onto one or several index entries. It's the rough equivalent of a SELECT in SQL: it defines what properties will be available on the index entries, the same way that a SQL SELECT specifies what columns will be available on the rows of the result set. A big difference however is that the mapping function may decline to return an entry for some items, and can return more than one if necessary. In that sense, it's also a little bit of a WHERE.

  • An order function

    This is a JavaScript function that maps an index entry onto one or more values by which the index should be sorted. It is the equivalent of SQL's ORDER BY. The return type of this function can be a simple JavaScript comparable value (string, number, Date), or it can be an array of such values. If an array is returned, each value in the array will be used, one after the other. As soon as a comparison gives a non-equal result, it is considered done and the exploration of the array is stopped.

From those three things, an index can be built by the search module by scanning each content item in the system, no matter where it is stored.

The index will be pre-sorted, and pre-filtered by both the id filter, and the logic in the mapping function. The index doesn't need to be rebuilt as long as the content items don't change. When a content item changes, it is possible to update the index by running the id filter and the mapping function on just this item, and by using the order by function to figure out where to change index entries.

This makes the system fast on querying, and a little slower on write operations, as all indexes in the system potentially need to be updated in such a case. The index updates can be performed asynchronously in the background, however, which mitigates the issue.

An index is built by requiring an index service from the scope, and then calling getIndex on it. An optional name can be given to the index, and it is recommended that you do so. Otherwise, a name is generated from the filter, map, and order function source code, which is harder to maintain.

The getIndex function returns an object that you can use to query the index. Until the index has had time to be built, querying a given index will return empty results. This is because indexing can take a very long time, depending on the number of items in the system, so even an asynchronous operation would delay the response to the user by too much.

As soon as the index has been built, the querying API will return actual result sets.

There are two ways an index can be queried: using filter, or using reduce.

Filter can be used to obtain a paginated list of index entries. It can take an optional where function that can specify what index entries should be in the result set. Remember that this condition will need to be run on potentially all index entries. For this reason, if you can, you should integrate such conditions into the mapping function, moving the burden of filtering to be run only once during the indexing phase rather than running it every time when querying.

Reduce applies an aggregating function on the index entries. Reduce can take an optional where function, with the same caveats that were mentioned in the previous paragraph.

This map/reduce model of querying may seem strange if you are used to querying databases using SQL. It is however not harder to use than SQL, and brings some unique advantages to a CMS:

  • It can query heterogeneously stored items, such as database-bound items, API documentation extracted from JavaScript source files, or JSON files on disk, in one operation.
  • It can then present the results in a unique, homogeneous view. It can also be easily scaled out: data stores and indexes can be sharded and spread across multiple servers, without changing the API.

An implementation of an index, as well as the standard API that all index implementations must expose, can be found under this topic:

/docs/api/decent-core-search/file-index

Example: Creating a paginated list of API documentation topics

We'll assume here that the site that we're working on has the api-documentation feature enabled, so that the topics we want to display actually exist.

The search-part feature must also be enabled on the site, as well as the query feature, and an implementation of the index service, such as the one in the file-index feature.

In order to create a page that shows a list of query results, we'll first create a new content type that has a title, and a search part.

Here is the type definition, as defined in the site's settings file, under features.content.types:

"search-page": {
  "name": "Search Results Page",
  "description": "Displays the results of a search.",
  "parts": {
    "title": {
      "type": "title"
    },
    "query": {
      "type": "search"
    }
  }
}

We can now create a new api-doc-topics.json file under the site's content folder:

{
  "meta": {
    "type": "search-page"
  },
  "title": "API Documentation Topics",
  "query": {
    "indexName": "api-doc-topics",
    "idFilter": "^apidocs:.+$",
    "map": "{title: item.title, url: '/docs/api/' + item.id.substr(8)}",
    "orderBy": "entry.itemId",
    "pageSize": 10,
    "displayPages": true,
    "displayNextPrevious": true,
    "displayFirstLast": true
  }
}

You can now hit the /api-doc-topics URL to see your search results. The first time you hit the page, nothing will get displayed, as the index has not yet been built. Hitting the page after the index has finished building itself displays the paginated list of topics.

Notice how an id filter is used to select only API documentation topics, without having to load the items. This is the most efficient way to exclude items from the index, and as such should be used as much as possible.

The mapping expression copies the title and URL of the item into index entries. The search part doesn't require that you write the entire function like the API does. Instead, a simple expression can be used, that will be wrapped into a function automatically.

Similarly, the orderBy property is just an expression. Here, we sort by item id. Notice that we never mapped that itemId property. This is because the system always adds the id of the item that was used to build an index entry, automatically.

The results of the query will be displayed by one or two shapes:

  • a search-results shape, that has a results property that is the results of the filter or reduce operation. This shape has search-results-[part name], search-results-[index name], and search-results-[part name]-[index name] alternates, that can be used to customize the rendering of search results.

  • a pagination shape, if pagination is active. This shape has three alternates built on the same pattern as the search-results alternates.

The search part is a convenient and simple way of querying the CMS, and of displaying the results. The reference documentation for it can be found in this topic:

/docs/api/decent-core-search/search-part